Hear me, ye winds and waves from Scipione and Giulio Cesare, Del minacciar del vento from Ottone
May 15, 2016: James Morris, bass-baritone; Ken Noda, piano
Always able to compose quickly when circumstances demanded, Handel wrote Scipione in just three weeks, completing the opera only ten days before the first performance on March 12, 1726, at the King’s Theatre in London. He had planned to present Alessandro, but had to come up with a new opera when one of his singers had to arrive too late. Not only did he have to borrow music from some of his recorder sonatas for the overture, but at the last minute had to remove a role and alter Paolo Antonio Rolli’s already hastily prepared libretto when one of the already assembled cast dropped out. It is no wonder that he made extensive revisions for a 1730 revival, which became almost a pastiche with the inclusion of fourteen numbers from his earlier operas.
The creation of the recitative and aria “Hear me, ye winds and waves” mirrors the kind of assembly that produced Scipione. In Act II, Scene 2, the imprisoned Princess Berenice (soprano) sings the gently martial but lamenting aria, “Tutta raccolta ancor” (Still wholly contained) while awaiting her captor Scipio, who loves her, though she loves Lucejo. In the late nineteenth century British composer, semiprofessional baritone, and poet Theo Marzials and composer/arranger Amelia Lehmann (known by the inititals A. L.) took the music from this aria and, setting it for low voice, fit it with the English words “Hear me, ye winds and waves”—Marzials’s translation of “Aure, deh, per pietà spirate,” an aria in Handel’s Giulio Cesare. (Handel’s original Caesar was sung by an alto castrato, but is now often performed by a baritone.)
Marzials preceded the aria (music from Scipione, words from Giulio Cesare translated into English) with the recitative “Dall’ondo periglio,” which he translated as “From the rage of the tempest” and which had introduced “Aure, deh, per pietà spirate” in Giulio Cesare. Caesar sings his Act III recitative and aria after surviving a drowning attempt and being washed ashore—he tells of his escape, laments the loss of his legions and his glory, and prays for an end to his misery. Thus the English recitative and aria known as “Hear me, ye winds and waves,” actually contains more words and measures of music from Giulio Ceasre, though the memorable music of the aria portion has become so beloved that the selection is always billed as from Scipione. Though originally a lament for Berenice, the music serves Caesar’s purpose equally well, a transference Handel himself could easily have appreciated. The Marzials/Lehmann piano vocal arrangement, published in 1895, has become a popular recital selection.
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Handel composed Ottone in the summer of 1722 for premiere at the King’s Theatre, but he had to make numerous revisions before the opening on January 12, 1723, because of complaints from the illustrious cast about their roles. Nicola Francsco Haym had adapted the libretto—somewhat clumsily according to critics—from that of Stefano Benedetti Pallavicino for Antonio Lotti’s 1719 Teofano, and further segmenting during Handel’s setting caused disjointedness of the drama. But the opera turned out to be one of the most popular of Handel’s career, in large part because of the music’s merits.
The plot revolves around a true event, the marriage of Otto II of Germany to Princess Theofano of the Eastern Empire in Rome in 972. Pallavicino, and hence Haym, added story elements concerning Berengar’s suppressed attempt to overthrow Otto I in 950 and the 976 succession of Basil II to the Eastern Empire throne. The blustery bass aria “Del minacciar del vento” (The threats of the wind) is sung in Act I, Scene 4, by the pirate Emireno (Emirenus) who has delayed Ottone (Otto) on his way to Rome to be married, but whom Ottone has captured. Emireno hints that he is someone important (actually Teofane’s brother, which he doesn’t reveal) and boasts that he will always retain his pride just before he is dragged off to prison.
© Jane Vial Jaffe